The Home Office has announced that major changes to the student rules will apply from March 2009.
Allegedly, students are being brought within the ‘points based scheme‘. However, anyone reading the Statement of Intent with the details of the new rules will quickly see that it is a complete misnomer to call it ‘points based’ at all. There are only two places to score points and an applicant has to score all of the available points to get a visa. It is disingenuous and misleading and hides a real failure of imagination and policy making on the part of the Home Office.
The main changes are:
1. No appeals against refusals to issue visas, only against in-country decisions.
2. Educational institutions wanting to offer places to foreign students have to register as a sponsor and issue a sponsorship declaration (called a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies or CAS) for each student to whom they offer a place. If the students break immigration rules, the institution risks being removed from the sponsors’ register – and therefore losing the funding brought by foreign students and probably having to close. Institutions also need to sign up to rules to shop their students to the Home Office if the students don’t turn up to classes or similar. Correspondingly, students have to have a CAS to get a visa.
3. There will be a minimum level of study of equivalent to Level 3 or above on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) or a course at Level A2 of the European Common Framework of Reference for Language if they are seeking to learn English. In fact the Statement of Intent provides a list of ‘approved qualifications’.
4. There is improved provision for study on sandwich courses and work placement courses.
5. To requirement to have sufficient funds is made far more specific and tied to British Council guidelines as follows:
- Students on courses of less than 12 months will be expected to show that they hold sufficient funds to cover the full costs of their course fees plus £800 per month for each month of the course up to a maximum of 12 months.
- Students on courses which are more than 12 months will be expected to show they have sufficient funds to pay the first year of fees only plus £9,600 to cover their first year in the UK.
- Students wishing to bring their dependants with them will need to show that they have a further £535 per month for each dependant that they bring with them for up to a maximum of 12 months.
6. A student visa will in future be ‘locked’ to a particular educational institution. There are no further details on the feasibility of changing institution once inside the UK. Nothing is said about locking students to particular courses, to overturn the brilliantly named case of GOO.
7. A new and separate ‘child student’ visa is being created to provide for those going to private schools and their carer parents. This is not new provision as such as there are already rules to this effect, but this type of visa is being separated out now.
There is quite a lot of continuity as well. In particular, while sponsoring institutions will be responsible for issuing CASs, ECOs will, after a CAS has been issued, check the documents on which the CAS was based. A visa can still be refused even when all the other requirements of the scheme are met, and unfortunately we know that certain posts (Islamabad, that means you) refuse to accept any document submitted by a visa applicant. ECOs will also scrutinise evidence of funds, although at least in future there will be a transparent target for which to aim.